This post should be a moan. A rant about how plants are treated so badly by nurseries or plant shippers desperate to get them sold. So we have heathers sprayed with paint (a crime), phalaenopsis dipped in blue dye (a travesty), Sanseveria cylindrica with the leaf tips dipped in primary-coloured paint (why would you do that?) and, at this time of year, poinsettias sprayed blue or scattered with glitter (as though poinsettias weren’t brash enough as it is). I don’t have photos of these because I refuse to by any of them, even to illustrate my point, just as I don’t have photos of cacti with faces stuck on them or a ring of dried flowers glued around the growing point – that is just cruel! But, rather hypocritically, I am featuring Kalenchoe blossfeldiana (flaming Katy), that Madagascan succulent; a plant that is produced, and killed, by the millions every year.
I am slightly ambivalent about this plant. It is bright and cheerful and I buy a couple every year just because the house is looking dull and I am happy to spend a couple of Euro on something that will look pretty for a few months. But, as far as relationships go, for me a kalenchoe is a quick fling. It is a mistake to try to have a long-term relationship with a kalenchoe because although it may not end in tears of betrayal, you will soon get fed up and, after a year, resentful and bored and will one day decide to put an end to the affair with the aid of a bin bag.
This is because, although you can hang on to your kalenchoe and try to get it to bloom again, it really isn’t worth the effort. In case you think I am either a) made of money or b) treat plants with contempt, I can assure you that neither is true. If you want to to keep your plant, make sure it is in a bright place – even full sun – water it sparingly but don’t let it get bone dry (of small flower buds will die) and cut off the dead flowers when they go brown. Repot the plant if you feel so inclined (in a cactus mix would be good), water and feed moderately, and the plant will make new shoots and get bigger and, if you keep it away from artificial light, which will extend day length and prevent flowering, it will flower again in smaller clusters on the sprawling, ugly plant in years to come. Somehow this ungainly habit is acceptable in frost-free climates where it is planted on top of walls or in dry soil but I don’t want it on my windowsill. Of course you can keep it starved and dry in a dark place in the downstairs loo where it will do nothing but collect dust and make spindly shoots that get in the way of the blind cord but that is just cruel.
Surprisingly, this little cutie doesn’t seem to have been introduced to Europe until 1932 but has been bred to extend the colour range from the usual red and orange to almost every colour except blue (without dye) and it is now being introduced as a cut flower too which has obviously involved breeding tall varieties which is the opposite of what has been going on for the past 80 years. These tall ones may be useful for gardeners in warmer climes and, as you can propagate them from stem and leaf cuttings it may be possible to get new plants in the same way you can root cuttings from bunches of carnations if you are lucky. Talking of temperature, don’t think that just because you have heard about penguins from Madagascar that this plant likes cold temperatures because it doesn’t and it really does need a min of 10c to be happy. You can abuse it in lots of ways but cold (and wet) really will spell the end of it.
I don’t always think that double flowers are better than single, nor the reverse, but in this case I do like the doubles and, if you are growing these outside and are worried about the bees, then don’t because they are not that full of petals that bees won’t get to any nectar that may be produced. So I bought this plant, lightly covered in glitter because, to me, it is a Christmas decoration. I must be alone in thinking that it was pretty because the big factor in making me buy it was that it was reduced, along with dozens of others, from €4 to €1.20, even though they were perfectly healthy. I do feel a bit guilty about buying a plant that has been slightly abused but, like Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Fir Tree’, I will give it its moment of glory.